...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Old Scout 7 year old Rye, batch 11 (and also Rittenhouse Rye BIB)

Smooth Ambler is a West Virginia-based company that bottles bourbons and ryes produced by other companies (usually MGP) while their own spirit matures in barrels.  Unlike a number of smaller bottling companies, Smooth Ambler openly states that their rye is from Indiana.  I really wish companies (like Templeton) would disclose when they're bottling MGP rye, not only for legal and ethical purposes, but also because I freaking love that rye.  Seriously, flaunt that sh*t.  Thus, Smooth Ambler does right on that account.

I've been eyeing Smooth Ambler's Old Scout rye ever since it started appearing on the shelves at relatively reasonable prices.  And then I had this sample (thank you, JLR!) sitting around for about a year.  I don't know what took me so long, but here it goes...

...but wait.  Old Scout needed a sparring partner so that I could get some perspective, so I went with Rittenhouse Rye BIB.  Rittenhouse tends to be about $10-$15 cheaper than Smooth Ambler, but it has a similar ABV and I adore the stuff.  It received a rave review from me last year and has since been my House Whisky.  This is our second bottle since the label change.  Anyway, I was bringing in an experienced champ to spar with the newbie.

Brand: Old Scout
Bottler: Smooth Ambler
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age7 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionMaxwelton, West Virginia (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Mashbill: 95% Rye
Batch: 11
Bottled: 3/14/13
Alcohol by Volume49.5%
(sample from swap with buddy JLR, top 1/3 of bottle)

Brand: Rittenhouse
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Rye Whisky (no 'e'!)
Age: minimum 4 years
Region: Distillery - Louisville, Kentucky; Warehouse - Bardstown, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 51% Rye (per Cowdery here and here)
Bottle Code: B1494
Bottle Year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(from my bottle, top 1/3 of bottle)

The rye is Rittenhouse Rye-colored.  The nose starts with a very balanced mix of orange oil, vanilla extract, dried coriander, fresh dill, menthol, and made-in-China-toy plastic.  It gradually releases notes of melting brown sugar, milk chocolate, pine needles, and VOC-full paint.  The palate starts out a bit sharp with more heat than expected from its age and ABV.  But it softens up in under ten minutes.  There's lots of mint, some cayenne, ground cumin, and lemon pepper.  So it's nice and spicy.  After a while there's an expanding note of sweet meyer lemons, but it's not too sweet overall.  Some stone fruits start to show up in the finish, along with caramel, black pepper, and bread crusts.

With water:
The nose gets fruitier (vague!) and sugarier (not exactly English!).  It becomes very pretty and floral.  Some black licorice, sarsaparilla, green peppercorns, and curry powder too.  The rye grain's intensity increases in the palate.  It gets spicier, with some chili powder slipping in.  Though the spice is met well with candied sweetness.  More vanilla as well.  More mint, vanilla, and lemons in the finish.  Spicy and sweet.

The rye is Old Scout-colored.  The nose is very nutty (hazelnuts and almonds).  There are smaller notes of wood smoke, rose blossoms, baklava, and nutmeg.  It opens up slowly, the nuts receding slightly.  Then limeade, Cow Tales, and menthol arrive.  The palate is even nuttier: almonds, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts.  Lemon curd on salt rocks.  Sourdough bread.  It's almost totally lacking sweetness.  Ah but a sweet creamy (almost malty) note arrives in the finish.  Then smoked almonds skins, caramel, cayenne, and limes.

With water:
Smoked hazelnuts and peanuts lead the nose.  A hint of orange peel, but a lot of corny bourbon showing through.  The palate becomes almost unbearably nutty and sweet.  Perfumed, too.  At least in the finish some bitterness and fresh parsley jump in.

So....that didn't turn out the way I'd expected.  The champ got knocked down.  Old Scout showed very well, its nose and palate were surprising.  Or maybe it shouldn't have been so surprising since I'm a fan of MGP rye.  It also swam well, while the Ritt couldn't even float.

I am not saying that Rittenhouse's quality has declined since they changed labels.  We went through a previous bottle with the new label with great speed and joy earlier this year.  But the particular batch (B1494) of Rittenhouse from this review was good (though a bit aggressive on the nutty side of things), not awesome.  It's still worth its price, but I know there are better batches out there.

Meanwhile, I don't know if other batches of Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye are as solid as batch 10.  But I'm willing to take a chance on a bottle if find one for less than $40.  Costco had it for $30, but that zoo's record with whiskies is 0-2 for me, so I skipped it.  Anyway, pleasant surprise this Old Scout.  It'll probably be the next rye I buy.

OLD SCOUT 7yo RYE, batch 10
Availability - Many US specialty retailers
Pricing - $35-$50
Rating - 87

Availability - Most US specialty retailers have Ritt BIB in general
Pricing - $22-$28
Rating - 82 (adding water not recommended)


  1. I'll be getting some whiskies in Jan from a certain midwestern retailer, where the OS rye is available at $35 - let me know if I should put you down for a bottle.

    I was very curious about the new label Rittenhouse. I really like the one I have open now (old label), but I was a little hesitant about the new label - because it's less specific about the distillation place! While the old one says 'distilled by DSP KY-1/bottled by DSP KY-31". The new label says something like "Distilled and bottled by DSP KY-1 and DSP KY-31" - which is NOT the same thing! Given my past traumatic experiences with Rittenhouse Rye pre-KY-1, that made me reluctant. And your review isn't alleviating any of that. Of course, I may worry for no good reason, but these days you have to parse the labels like your home closing documents. Could this little change be the reason why they decided to switch to the ugly label in the first place?

    1. Yeah, the label is oddly vague about about the distilleries. From what I gather, KY-31's stills were destroyed in the big Heaven Hill fire in 1996. I think they're just using the location for bottling purposes. OR...they're including some old KY-31-distilled rye (18+ yrs) in the Ritt BIB mix. Ha, I wish!

      I've actually never had the KY-354 Brown-Forman version, so maybe I'm lucky. But I think there's a sample coming to me of that one. If that's true, I'll compare it with the KY-1.

      Yes, please put my name down for the purchase of one OS rye from the midwestern retailer. The OS rye is selling for $35 out where I am now, but I'm already hauling bottles back <<<< this is a pain in the ass when traveling with child.

    2. Your response is reassuring, thank you! It's way outside my nerd league knowing what KY-31 stands for - or that is inactive for distilling. And yes, my scarring experience was with KY-354, a few years back. At least I know - unlike some master distillers - that there *aren't* 600+ distilleries in Ky...

    3. Well, if you count everyone distilling a cup of tea or reducing some broth or balsamic in a pan, then MAYBE there are 600+ distilleries in KY. Perhaps that's what Mr. Michter's was considering...

      KY-354's products gross me out <<<---- official tasting notes. Seriously, the only thing that Brown Forman has made that I've dug is the Collingwood 21 rye, and that's from Ontario!